Michigan coach John Beilein knows a thing or two when it comes to 3-point shooting.
He also knows a bad shooter when he sees one and he’s adamant junior guard Zavier Simpson doesn’t fall under that category.
“I'm a shooting guy and I've coached some poor shooters and know when that ball goes out of their hand, it's not going in,” Beilein said on WBBL’s Grand Rapids-based “The Huge Show” on Thursday. “And when the ball is coming out of Zavier's hand right now, I think it's going in. I've never seen so many in-and-outs in my life — I'm talking practice, games, shooting drills.”
In Tuesday’s win at Northwestern, Simpson had plenty of success attacking the basket in the first half. But when the Wildcats switched up their defensive game plan and turned him from a driver into a shooter, he didn't have much success.
Simpson missed all five of his 3-point attempts in the second half, including three consecutive long-range shots over a 62-second span when Michigan held a 51-49 lead and Northwestern defenders sagged off him and dared him to shoot.
It led to Beilein replacing Simpson with sophomore guard Eli Brooks down the stretch, and Brooks came through with a huge 3-pointer when Michigan’s offense was struggling to score.
Beilein said Simpson took the benching in stride and as bad as he wanted to check himself back in, Simpson knew exactly why that didn't happen until Northwestern's final offensive possession.
"We were playing four on five. We were really in a drought and we needed to open the court a little bit," Beilein said. "I don't know if Jordan (Poole) gets to the rim both times if he's out there because Eli Brooks is spacing people and he knows it. If he reacted poorly, I'd be extremely disappointed, but I wouldn't care because we have to do what's best for Michigan."
After Tuesday’s performance, Simpson’s 3-point shooting dropped to 22.7 percent (5-for-22) this season and 27.2 percent (34-for-125) for his career. He hasn’t made a 3-pointer in the past five games — he didn’t attempt one against Providence or Chattanooga — and he has missed his last nine attempts.
Beilein said he’s turning to analytics and studying Simpson’s launch angle, with a focus on the back end of his shooting arc, to try and find out why his 3-point shots aren't falling.
“Where is the high point of his arc? That's what I'm looking at, and we’ll see if we can back it off and have the higher point be earlier so that it comes down at a different rate,” Beilein said. “There's something happening. There's just too many times it looks right on top of the rim like it's going to go in and it doesn't.”
Northwestern’s second-half strategy for Simpson was a first for Michigan this season. And while it might lead to future foes implementing a similar plan, Beilein likened the situation to Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo, a career 31.1-percent 3-point shooter.
Beilein said Rondo has never been known as a shooter during his 13 seasons in the NBA, but his teams find other ways to get him open and utilize him on offense, like being used as a ball screener.
"I think every team is going to be different now because when you do play off you allow him (Simpson) to get downhill and you allow him to run anything that we want to run. There's more to that then what you think," Beilein said. "It really didn't surprise me, but it's a riddle that we'll finish. Also, when the situation is right we expect him to make those shots, too."
Simpson said the confidence in his jumper hasn't wavered despite the recent slump, noting the difference between this season and last season is he's not deterred after a couple misses.
"Last year, I probably wouldn't have shot them. And they felt good, so it'd be different if they felt bad. At least three or four I thought for sure was going in," Simpson said. "There's too much hard work and dedication behind this, it's going to fall sooner or later."
Simpson added he can't see himself missing five straight 3-point attempts if teams decided to guard him like Northwestern did.
"That happens again I feel like I'm going to make them," he said. "It may be 0-for-5 (from 3-point range), next game maybe 2-for-5, but one of these days it might be 5-for-5. The moment it happens, I feel like that's when our team strives."
With that in mind, Beilein said the best course of action, for now, is to press on with Simpson.
“We just keep working on his shooting. It’s the easiest thing rather than try and change everything,” Beilein said. “We got to have things in place, whether it's substitutions…but right now we're not giving up on that."